Monday 30 April 2012


Niall grew up in Edinburgh and went to Edinburgh University before decamping to York for post-grad studies, where we met.

Royal Terrace
After both finishing at York we lived in Edinburgh for several years. We were spoilt in so far as we were lucky enough to rent a flat in the 'New Town'. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995; this sector of the city was built at the tail-end of the 18th century and has a very homogenous look as it was carefully planned and designed.

Sunshine on Leith, view from Royal Terrace to Fife
The New Town dates from the same period as the famous cresents in Bath and is in the neo-classical Georgian style. It was built to resolve the problems of Edinburgh's Old Town which had become insalubrious and very over crowded. So much so, that the city big wigs were worried that the richer inhabitants would decamp and permanently desert Edinburgh altogether for London [or the bright lights of Dundee!!].

Regent Terrace, outside 'our' basement
We lived in a basement flat in Regent Terrace, which lies at the very eastern end of the New Town right under Calton Hill. At the top of the street is the American Consulate; hence the flag in the photo. This part of the New Town was designed by Playfair and built in the early 19th century and is named after the Prince Regent, later King George IV.
View from Regent Terrace; Arthur's Seat & Scottish parliament
Like many of the New Town properties there are private communal gardens at the back which are shared with the houses along Royal Terrace. Regent Terrace faces out towards Arthur's Seat; Royal Terrace towards the Firth of Forth and the distant shores of Fife. The gardens are the enclosed green space the between the two. Then as now, we had two cats: Echo & Clio, so this was perfect. At the top of the gardens is [we assume it is still there] a ha-ha and wall with a small gate which allows residents to access Calton Hill. Spoilt indeed!

The Meadows looking towards Edinburgh University library
We also had a look at Niall's old student flat located on the south side of the park called The Meadows. This area of the city is called Bruntsfield and is still very much a student quarter as it is near the university.

Sunday 29 April 2012

An Edinburgh birthday

We arrived in Edinburgh last Wednesday after a long and exhausting drive courtesy of the weather. It was foul all the way, with lashing downpours and heavy amounts of surface water on the motorways.

the birthday girl
Thursday saw us hitting the shops to put the final flourishes to the birthday celebration for Niall's younger sister Shona. We wanted to get a fun cake and silly candles and other light hearted bits and bobs to create a birthday reminiscent of childhood. It was not a special birthday, [as she was keen to point out!] but it has been a while since one of our visits has coincided with her birthday so that was cause enough for a celebration.

pink fizz and a "Gruffalo" cake
On Friday, the day of the birthday, the weather co-operated with sunny spells and periods of blue sky. The birthday girl was treated to some sparkling pink wine as well as a "Gruffalo" cake with kitty candles :-)!
an un-impressed Eliot!
Both Morse and Eliot, her two cats, seemed remarkably underwhelmed at their mistress's silly birthday goings on. However, we humans thoroughly enjoyed it!

PS Shona would like it to be known that she did not eat half the cake on her own as the photo might suggest!

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Edinburgh Ho!

Later today we are off to Edinburgh to see Niall's mum and his sister whose birthday it is on Friday.

Sadly our mode of travel will not be as romantic or stylish as a train in the glory days of rail travel which this poster advertised. Instead we will be taking the overnight car ferry from Ouistreham to Portsmouth and then driving up.

Currently the National Museum of Scotland is holding an exhibition entitled 'See Scotland by Train' of railway posters like this, and hopefully we'll have a chance to go and see it.

Therefore, next posts will probably take a departure from our usual lives here in France and have a Scottish flavour!

Monday 23 April 2012

Bin bags & butter

Late last week, we collected our annual allocation of grey [general garbage] and yellow [recycled stuff] bin bags from the Maire. Normally, we don't take the camera along for such mundane errands, but this time we did as we were off to Loches as well; and you never know what you might see.

A little while ago we shared a progress update on Charnizay's new Salle des Spectacles and last week we took a look at the chantier to see what further progress is being made.   

creating the entrance to the Salle des Spectacles
More progress is clearly evident.  The back of the building, where it drops down to the road towards Le Petit Pressigny, has been covered in a fresh layer of lime render. The workmen are now busy with the entrance foyer which will join the two original buildings which sit at right angles to each other. Many of the double glazed wndows have been fitted and they all have burgundy red frames. We are, as yet, unsure as to whether we think the colour might not be too strong.

Meanwhile the weather continues to be extremely changeable and chilly. One minute we have fluffy clouds and sun, the next it's back to rain and stormy winds. All of which means we work outside in short little bursts when we can.

Heures de la Bienheureuse Vierge Marie, April; f.8r, French 16th C

So far, April has certainly been a far cry from the bright spring day in this little miniature; although the dark purple cloud with Taurus the bull in the top left corner is apposite! Like then, so too now the cows at dairy farms around us have been put out to graze the spring grass.

When we lived in The Netherlands "gras kaas" [grass cheese] and "gras boter" [grass butter] used to appear in the shops in May. This is cheese and butter made from milk from cows who had been turned out to graze on the new spring growth. It was always light in colour and tasted delicious!

Friday 20 April 2012

Swathes of yellow

Everywhere you look at this time of year in our part of the Touraine you see  yellow set off by bright green of young wheat. The colza [rape seed] is in full flower. Last year, like many things, including our bulbs; it flowered very quickly as it was unseasonally warm. This year it is 'staying around' a bit more.

wild skies
The last couple of days we've had sudden rain storms sometimes mixed with hail. The weather will close in, the trees will lash about while the valley slope opposite disappears and then whoosh ... down comes rain/hail in sharp showers. Driving back from Loches yesterday we were caught in several bursts. We need the moisture but the hail, although the stones were very small, was less welcome.
colza on the hillsides
With the current wild skies the clouds zoom over the landscape turning everything rapidly from shadow to light. When a patch of sun hits the colza it flares acid yellow. It made for a lovely view when we went to do our weekly shop this morning.
a bevy of presidential hopefuls
Down in the village the posters of all the candidates in the French presidential beam out at passing motorists. Campaigning for the first round is coming to an end with voters going to the ballot box on Sunday. The two candidates with the most votes then go forward to a second round.

Friday 13 April 2012

Blossom and perches

'our' tulips
This week has been fairly quiet and the weather has been changeable so outside chores have been an on, off, then on again affair. When the sun has come out it has been warm-ish in sheltered spots but we've had short sharp rain or hail showers as well.

ornamental cherry
The tulips are now starting to come into their own; both those we've planted and others that we 'inherited'. The little Reine Claude [greengage] tree has finished flowering and now it is the turn of our pear, ornamental cherry and edible cherry.

Buds are showing on our apple trees. It is a little cold and the bees, barring the bumbles, have been less in evidence so we may not get any fruit -- we'll see; they are only young trees after all.

young black cherry
Katinka's mad kitty brain has led her to decide that sleeping in the V-shape made by the cap on the old bread oven chimney is perfect. She has an obsession with heights.

She eyes up lofty positions, makes a chirriping type noise and proceeds to clamber to the very top. More rat up a drainpipe than cat....

Shadow, not to be outdone in the 'interesting places to kip' stakes has decided that the deceased and yet to be disposed of standard box is suitable. Watching him settle is hilarious!

Shadow's 'comfy' perch

Yesterday we went to lunch with friends Tim & Gaynor who have a house in the next village. Four teachers round a table made for some lively discussion on how we'd like to set the educational world to rights! Gaynor is a fellow blogger and it was lovely to catch up with them. She had made slow cooked pork with lentils and a yummy carrot cake for dessert. What with a salad as a starter and a cheese board too, we were so well fed we didn't bother with supper!

Friday 6 April 2012

Les Croix des Calvaires

Early in the Great War the poet Rupert Brooke recorded a private soldier in his battalion grumbling "What I don't like about this 'ere Bloody Europe is all these Bloody pictures of Jesus Christ an' 'is Relatives, be'ind Bloody bits of glawss". Then, as now, such roadside calvaries come as a surprise to northern European Protestants, not least because there is nothing like them on rural roads at home. It is often assumed that these structures, usually found at road junctions, crossroads or natural viewpoints, were placed there centuries ago, but often they prove to be far more recent.

The oldest surviving calvaries, such as the fifteenth century one at Le Louroux which we wrote about [here], were sited in the centre of village cemeteries and depicted not only the crucified Christ, but also the smaller figures of the Virgin Mary and St. John.  In later centuries these were often moved as the village cemetery was re-sited away from the church to the outskirts. Here they retained their original medieval purpose as the focal point of the local site of remembrance. We've also seen a lovely example of a, much later, 19th century calvary with the figures of St John and the Virgin at a crossroads in Lureuil.

However, most of the calvaries seen by roadsides today, which date from the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries, have a different history and purpose. Following the endemic iconoclasm that accompanied the French Revolution the French bishops launched a series of 'missions evangeliques' to re-christianise rural communities. Where this was successfully accomplished large crosses would be erected depicting the crucified Christ as concrete memorial proof that the area had been 're-conquered' by the church. A good local example stands outside the nearby village of St. Flovier, the base recording the success of 'Mission 1895'.

St Flovier
The same Mission must also have turned its evangelical fervour on Charnizay, as the village has not one, but two, such calvaries – perhaps revolutionary iconoclasm was especially virulent among earlier inhabitants! One of them stands quite near us, high on the hill overlooking the village on the road to Azay-le-Ferron. It is a welcome resting place when one walks back from the village and affords the best view, one we have photographed several times.

Smaller metallic crosses, often of elaborate design, are found beside road junctions and footpaths. Marked on local maps they are useful for orientation and were perhaps used in the past as meeting points. For whatever original purpose, someone took the trouble to erect these structures and somehow our local landscape would be a little emptier without their friendly presence.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Brocante des livres

Well we couldn't really resist, could we? A book fair, and in a nearby village - just the thing for a late Saturday morning before going home to do a few more outside chores.

bar-brasserie Le Panier d'Alice
There is a local association called 'Le Champ des Livres' [more info] which promotes things of a literary & cultural nature: readings; writing workshops and so on. They describe themselves 'un association nomade'; ie peripatetic. They host events in various, mainly rural, locations round and about South Touraine.

It was Le Champ des Livres who were running the brocante at the bar-brasserie Le Panier d'Alice in the village of La Celle Guenand. From time to time they also host the Café franco-anglais for French and English speakers at this venue.

exterior & belltower
We were greeted by a charming French lady who was so enthusiastic that A had picked out a couple of Maigret novels she insisted on adding a book for free ['La fin de la Nuit' by Francois Mauriac].  A's not at all sure it is her type of novel but she'll give it a go. Outside there was also a box of English classic titles. Copies of William Corbett's 'Rural Rides' and Samuel Butler's 'The Way of all Flesh' -- both Classic Penguins and out of print -- found their way onto our little pile of goodies. All the paperbacks were 1€ so we got some great bargins.

eroded west front

While we were there we popped into the church which, sadly, is in urgent need of repair and restoration. Inside it is suffering badly from damp and outside there is plenty of evidence of erosion and fragile stonework.

font with faces

So much so, that the west door has been braced and is no longer used. Inside we spotted a lovely medieval font [probably 12thC] with carved faces as decoration. The bell tower has lovely Romanesque arches. Hopefully it will get some TLC very soon.

As we drove home with our 'loot' we had the roof open to make the most of the fantastic weather we've been having.